Pride restored, All Blacks head home to quarantine

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SYDNEY (Reuters) - New Zealand coach Ian Foster declared himself satisfied with the All Blacks after finishing "an immensely difficult year" with a five-try rout of Argentina that almost certainly secured them the Tri-Nations title.

An international season that started with a 16-16 draw with Australia on a chilly night in Wellington ended in a Newcastle furnace but it was the two defeats to the Wallabies and Pumas that came in between that many will remember best.

The All Blacks squad boarded a flight on Sunday for New Zealand, where they will spend two weeks in quarantine because of restrictions in place to keep COVID-19 out of the country before joining their families for Christmas.

"There'll still be a few niggly hurt moments about particularly the loss to Argentina but at least we got a chance to fix it and show that we can play," Foster said.

"This group is developing. We've got a bit more to go, we're clear about that, but it's a better way to finish."

"Today I felt we played at a tempo that kept (Argentina) moving and kept them thinking," he added. "We didn't lose our way, we didn't get frustrated and we were quite clinical in going back to areas we thought were getting to them."

In his first season in charge, Foster has overseen three wins, one draw and two losses.

The All Blacks retained the Bledisloe Cup and will add the Tri-Nations trophy unless either Argentina or Australia run up a cricket score in the final match of the tournament next week.

Foster said it was important to remember that getting a southern hemisphere championship going at all this year, albeit without South Africa, had required a good deal of sacrifice from players and staff.

"It's been an immensely difficult year for everyone," he said.

"So this is not about the All Blacks. This is everyone. I feel for Argentina, they've been over here for a long time and you saw the commitment that they showed.

"A fortnight ago, we'd just played our fifth test in six weeks and it was tough.

"There's been a lot of challenges for all the teams. It's just great that rugby's been playing so hats off to everyone here who have been able to organise all this."

(Reporting by Nick Mulvenney; Editing by Daniel Wallis)